2006 June 25

History of System Development

Topics

In the Beginning

During the early 1990s, I played a lot of social rubber bridge with Jacob Davenport, Peter Hammond, and Matt Shibla. We used seat-of-the-pants, 1950s-era Standard bidding passed on from bridge-playing parents that, after too many mishaps, we felt was inadequate. We looked at Precision but didn’t like its complexity. On the other hand, the strong club was appealing. No more being passed out with 20 high card points (HCP)…

So we went back to the source: the Italian Club, the original strong club system with which the Italians captured numerous world championships. It was much more natural and introduced us to the importance of tempo in an auction. Opening 4-card majors and playing “canapé” style took a little getting used to, but we really appreciated the upper limit on all bids other than 1. From the opening bid, Responder could often tell immediately whether the auction was game-going or partial only.

Responders with 10–12 HCP still had to go through an invitational sequence, though, so at some point we had a seemingly bright idea: Instead of a system that classified opening hands as strong or not strong, what about classifying openers as strong, invitational, or weak?

We reserved 1 for all hands with 17+ HCP and limited 1M, 1NT, and 2m to 11–13 HCP. Invitational hands with 14–16 HCP would open an artificial 1. We’d heard of Western Scientific bidding and christened our new system Eastern Mysticism in opposition.

Version 1.0

The invitational 1 opening—the “Mystic Diamond”—entailed a series of step responses to show partner’s strength. The basic philosophy of the system was that once we knew how high we could afford to bid, we knew how much room we had to find a fit. In contrast, the Standard bidding we were used to looked for a fit first and then tried to decide how high to bid.

Since 1m openings showed only strength and said nothing about distribution, we had to open 4-card majors. Thus 1NT denied a major, showing a balanced 11–13 HCP, and 2m denied a major with an unbalanced 11–13 HCP. Every hand shape and strength was covered by an exclusive opening bid—what could possibly go wrong?

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Unsurprisingly, a lot of auctions went wrong. And all the problems centered around finding the proper fit.

We tried various patches, such as switching back to 5-card majors and allowing 2m to include a 4-card major, á la Precision. We quickly realized how much we’d missed 5-card major openings, but just as quickly found that searching for a 4-4 major fit after opening 2m was a nightmare. Next we tried a Multi-Club opening that showed either a traditional strong hand or a weak, unbalanced hand without a 5-card major. 2m now showed 6+ cards and denied a 4-card major.

Our coalition started falling apart over proposed fixes, plus the fact that Jacob and I had taken up duplicate playing seriously, which gave us an entirely new perspective.

Starting Over

Jacob and I considered all the systems and system variations we had tried, outlining methods we found worked well and those we felt were problematic. It was time to take a close look at Eastern Mysticism and mercilessly redesign it from the ground up in accordance with our hard-earned bidding philosophy.